With selfie, Ukrainian health minister joins coronavirus evacuees in quarantine

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine’s health minister joined evacuees from China in quarantine in a sanatorium on Friday in a show of solidarity after fears over the possible spread of the coronavirus led to clashes between protesters and police.

Posting a selfie on her Facebook page, Zoriana Skaletska said she would spend two weeks in a room there and would carry out her government duties by phone and Skype.

Everyone inside the sanatorium was feeling well and showed no signs of infection, she said.

“So, I’m finally in a room where I’ll spend the next two weeks,” she wrote.

Skaletska decided to join those in quarantine after people in the town of Novi Sanzhary, where the sanatorium is located, clashed with police, burned tires and hurled projectiles at a convoy of buses carrying evacuees from China.

Despite reassurances from the authorities, the protesters worried they could be infected by the virus and wanted the evacuees moved away.

Skaletska said she was amazed by what she described as the panic and aggression towards the evacuees, and hoped her setting a personal example would change minds.

Speaking to parliament, Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk said misinformation about the coronavirus was being spread from within and outside Ukraine.

The authorities are trying to find the source of bogus emails sent on behalf of the health ministry erroneously declaring there had been confirmed coronavirus cases in Ukraine, when so far there have been none.

In another example, Honcharuk cited an incident of Russian officials asking a wagon-load of passengers traveling on a train from Kiev to Moscow to disembark after a Chinese woman with fever was found to be traveling on board.

Ukraine’s health ministry said the woman had not been infected with the coronavirus.

Police detained 24 people in Thursday’s clashes.

The authorities had appealed for calm, saying the evacuees were screened to make sure they were not infected before being allowed to fly.

“Our health minister has agreed to stay with the citizens in this medical institution,” Honcharuk said. “This way her example will prove that there is no danger to Ukrainian citizens.”

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed to Ukrainians not to vilify those returning from China.

“We constantly say that Ukraine is ( part of) Europe,” he said. “Yesterday, frankly, in some episodes it seemed that we are the Europe of the Middle Ages, unfortunately. Let’s not forget that we are all people.”

Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Ros Russell and Angus MacSwan